I am a cisgender female adult; that is the identity through which I am viewing this topic. I will most likely make mistakes in my wording, and please do call me out if I show my privilege. I need to learn as much as anyone else does.
That said, I was intrigued by a discussion that occurred on a status message (ah, Facebook, you source of blogspiration, you) about children who identify as transgender.
The main problem is the dialogue that is used to talk about the experiences of transgender children – it’s always about how they ‘feel’ like a person of the other sex identity and how they were noticed by their cisgender parents as enjoying what are traditionally seen as toys/interests of the other sex identity than that they were assigned at birth; the confusing use of the word ‘gender’ when it is about ‘sex’ (as in male/female) too.
The stories of transgender children speak about so much more than interests and play; roles and choice of toys. It’s about seeing your body and not recognising it as the sex that everyone is telling you that you are. It’s about having a penis and wanting to cut it off because it is alien, it doesn’t belong, it’s not ‘you’. It’s about not going to the toilet at school because you don’t belong in the boys or girls bathroom, and wetting yourself instead (an experience reported by many transgender children). In the same way I, as a cisgender woman, know that my vagina is very much a part of me and that my breasts belong on my body and that my womb is the correct organ for my body to contain (whether it operates correctly or not is another question and bears no relation to my womanhood), a transgender man knows they are not. Children can feel this too, and it can lead to intense and significant mental health problems.
Cisgender people view society through the privileged prism of knowing that we are in the physical bodies which are correct. We don’t feel the disconnect, or the disgust, that testimonies of transgender people do. Children know this, in the same way they may recognise their natural sexuality at a young age but have no way to express or understand it.
The medical profession has always viewed transgender identity specifically through the cisgender privileged lens, meaning that in order to receive any form of treatment they have to conform to what are gender-specific stereotypes to ‘prove’ their sex/gender. Often yo will then find they are castigated and abused for conforming to such stereotypes. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t. When it comes to children, the parents have no other way of ‘helping’ their child other than presuming and explaining to themselves through such stereotypes. When adults, and post-transition (at whatever point the transgender adult feels they need to reach as transitioning is a many faceted, many layered process) you will often find the stereotypes fall away as their body becomes their own and matches the sex/gender always was.
I would far rather the gender binary was done away with completely and we had no gender-specific pronouns etc, and that children were simply children and adults simply adults. However, that’s not the world we live in at the moment, and transgender identity is far more about the body/psyche than it is about conforming to a gender stereotype. That conformity is that which is pushed onto the identity, not the other way around.
We simply don’t have the language to be able to express exactly what it is to be transgender; our language (and I am speaking about English, as that is the language I was born and raised to use and understand) is gendered, our understanding is binary. There is male/female, man/woman, and language is created to reflect that. We have patriarchal systems and ideologies which maintain the binary, and this can be seen in our pronouns, our stereotypes, our conforming ideals. We identify inanimate objects by gender (ships are ‘she’ for example). Feminism argues against gender stereotyping, and transgender identity is absolutely a feminist issue.
I find, though, that the vast majority of people who worry about children being pushed into declaring themselves transgender and seeking treatment from doctors and psychologists are those who do not have transgender children. It is very much not being a ‘tomboy’ or a ‘girly-boy sissy’, and isn’t it telling how both are derogatory names for non-gender conforming behaviour yet that applied to the boy child is far more damaging than that applied to a girl. To be ‘feminine’ is deemed a negative for males as a giving away of the privilege, but to be ‘masculine’ is only negative for girls in that girls shouldn’t seek to dominate the way a boy ‘should’.
My understanding of transgender identity is that it is about so much more. It’s about the sex of one’s body and how one ‘knows’ that one is not in the correct physical body. I cannot know how that is, I am a cisgender woman.
It is at this point as an ally who strives to be a good ally, I must listen to the voices of those who are transgender and those who are raising transgender children. They are the voices of experience. They are the ones who must lead in the struggle. My job is to support and speak out, and call out if I can, and be called out when I should be, and most importantly, to accept that calling out.
Testimonies of parents and children:
An overview of transgender identity in history can be found here:
http://bilerico.lgbtqnation.com/2008/02/transgender_history_trans_expression_in.php (also links to the other six parts of this series).
Or here (note: use of pre-transitional names in the article): https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2010/jun/02/brief-history-transgender-issues
Thank you for reading. Please share.
A Letter to My MP On the Labour Party Leadership Contest
I write further to your emails of 19th July and 17th August, and have been taking my time in responding partly because of my intense disappointment at your support of Owen Smith.
I fail to understand both why the PLP have behaved so abominably to their popularly elected leader and how you could support Owen Smith as a leader over Jeremy Corbyn. Indeed, the ———— Ward voted to support Jeremy Corbyn by an extremely narrow margin, and the meeting was better attended than most because the membership feel so strongly about supporting Jeremy Corbyn as leader. As at the date of writing, the vast majority of Wards have voted to support Jeremy Corbyn over Owen Smith, as have the majority of Unions.
I was very disappointed by an attendee at the meeting who stated he worked in your office and then proceeded to give his own personal opinion about how Jeremy Corbyn was ‘looking’ whilst working at the Houses of Parliament and attaching psychological meaning such as he was ‘looking tired’. In court this would be inadmissible as this worker is not a psychologist nor at his own admittance had he spoken with, nor did he have any knowledge of Jeremy Corbyn’s state of mind or physical capabilities. Surely we are attacked enough in this way by the right-wing press, we don’t need staffers and PLP members to denigrate based on personal opinion and propagandist interpretation?
Jeremy Corbyn has the support of the membership, and it is the membership who are the backbone of the Labour Party. Jeremy Corbyn represents the views of the Labour Party and it is extremely dismaying to see so blatantly that the PLP no longer do. It is time we as a party got over the failed experiment with ‘New’ Labour and the betrayal of the root and reason for the Labour Party. The party was formed to support the disenfranchised; to literally enfranchise the people and ensure they had a say in the running of the country. It is clearly stated in the Labour Party membership booklet what the aims are.
Furthermore, the disgraceful attempt to remove new members from being able to vote in the leadership election, despite the clear promise in the guidelines, and forcing the issue through court to a successful appeal (although given the Judge’s reported affiliations I do question that verdict and as a person working in the legal system I understand how such rulings are at appeal stage based on opinion and interpretation of contract law as opposed to a clear reading of the same) I have lost all faith in the elected members of parliament for the Labour party.
Sadly, this now includes you as you have openly stated your support for Owen Smith over Jeremy Corbyn. To me, your reasons for supporting Owen Smith seem entirely unfounded.
In your email of 19th July 2016, you state “It pains me to say it, but Jeremy has lost my support. Not because I disagree with his ideas though. I mean I was with him last night as we voted together against replacing Trident. But because I believe that we need to provide a credible alternative to the conservatives.” Jeremy Corbyn is a credible alternative to the conservatives; unfortunately by staging this coup at the most regrettable time, when the conservatives had been seen to lost the Brexit/Bremain vote and were at their most vulnerable, the PLP has itself discredited the Labour Party and missed a vital moment in which we could have defeated the Conservatives and shown Labour as the more effective political party. It is the PLP who lost the Labour Party its credibility, and this is the view of the majority of the membership as is shown by the clear support Jeremy Corbyn has across the Labour Party membership.
It was claimed that Jeremy Corbyn did not campaign sufficiently hard enough for the Remain vote. He attended over 100 events despite ‘being on holiday’ and made numerous television appointments. It seems his principled stand against debating alongside David Cameron was seen as problematic, yet many cite his principles as the best reason for supporting him. No matter what he did, he would have been criticised, which is proper in a democratic process. However, when it is his own PLP doing the criticism, they are doing the Conservative’s job for them. Is it any wonder the PLP is nicknamed ‘Tory lite’ or ‘Diet Tory’ when such behaviours are clearly on show? IPSO, Mori, YouGov and Survation polls all showed that Labour support for Remain stayed consistent throughout the campaigns. It was the Conservatives who failed this campaign. The PLP should have been acting on those facts instead of denigrating their democratically elected leader.
I fail to understand how the PLP cannot understand this and should appreciate your clear explanation as to why you believe Jeremy Corbyn has lost the credibility and support of the Labour Party membership and the public. Even the right wing press clearly states Jeremy Corbyn has the support of the people, yet opinion pieces such as that by Sadiq Khan and Owen Smith himself claim otherwise.
You also stated that “The man [Jeremy Corbyn] has principles, he is honest, but I believe it’s time for him to go.” This beggars my belief. Why would you want to get rid of a man of principle and honesty? You also state that Labour is a political party, not a fan club or protest group. This seems to indicate what you think of those of us who support Jeremy Corbyn; patronising, reductive and untrue as it may be. I have spoken with very many people who have been galvanised by the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader; he provided hope, a strong leadership, and a believable pathway to equality and fighting for the minority and discriminated against groups within society who tend not to vote in general elections because they are not represented by the electoral candidates. Jeremy Corbyn gave these people, who in the last election represented 33.9% of the voting population, a voice. By taking this away the PLP are hoping to appeal to Conservatives. This has not worked over the last two general elections and the PLP is figuratively throwing away 33.9% of the voting population. This is a retrograde step and a huge mistake.
In your email of 17th August you state your reasons for supporting Owen Smith. You give a list of your beliefs, all of which are also those of the Labour Party AND Jeremy Corbyn, but the only reasons you give for specifically supporting Owen Smith are that you believe he will mean the Labour Party is in a stronger position to win with Owen Smith at the head of the party. This despite clear evidence that he does not have the support of the majority of the Labour Party members, and that he is seen by many as untrustworthy due to the fact he registered his website for the coup before resigning his position and worked for a private pharmaceutical company as a lobbyist before entering politics.
All the policies that Owen Smith claims to be standing by are those of Jeremy Corbyn, yet when it came down to it last year, Owen Smith abstained on the NHS Reinstatement Bill and Jeremy Corbyn did not. Voting records are publicly available at http://www.theyworkforyou.co.uk, and I think perhaps the PLP should pay more attention to how often such sites are accessed; it seems that some PLP members may not realise how public (rightly) their voting records are. Jeremy Corbyn showed an ability to work with cross-party members whilst holding to the principles of both himself and the Labour Party, it was Owen Smith who failed at this time.
You also stated in the email of 17th August that “Locally, we as a party need to ensure we remain an inclusive party focused on fighting and winning the next election.” I agree and applaud this stand. Yet it is Jeremy Corbyn who instigated the in-depth examination of anti-semitism within the Labour Party, through the report of Shami Chakrabarti, which also covered racism and islamophobia, and came to very useful conclusions. I have read the report as I am sure you have too, and given your support for inclusivity I am sure you applaud the conclusions and the implementation of the same. To date, Jeremy Corbyn is the only political leader ever to have taken any such step in the move to wipe out bigotry and discrimination within the ranks of a political party.
However, as I have stated before, it is Jeremy Corbyn who appeals to and has the support of those who are more often excluded from mainstream politics. Indeed, despite ——————— being a multi-cultural borough I was very disappointed to note that the heavily attended ———– Ward meeting was almost exclusively white (one attendee of middle Eastern heritage) and quite clearly the majority were home-owners and/or of middle-class description. Clearly the party which supports Owen Smith does not appeal to the non-voter or those who are defined as being of a minority group. Jeremy Corbyn is supported by the working class, those of BAME identity, and those groups who campaign for equality and are of non-privileged identities.
A clear message of the division between the candidates is on the Prevent measures and the reactions of the Islamic community to such a controversial anti-terrorist countermeasure. Owen Smith supports this measure, which is tantamount to racial profiling, whereas Jeremy Corbyn opposes it.
In my view it is very clear that Jeremy Corbyn remains the best candidate for leader of the Labour Party. I am deeply disappointed that you do not agree, and look forward to receiving your detailed response as to why you believe this. It is not Conservative voters we should be appealing to, it is the non-voters and it is there Jeremy Corbyn is superb as a leader. Jeremy Corbyn is not only re-engaging the Labour voters who left as a result of New Labour, but bringing in new members in the youth and the underprivileged people. These are precisely the people the Labour Party should be supporting and for whom the Labour Party was created.
I should appreciate specific reference to the policies of both candidates in your response. I look forward to hearing from you.
Last night my Sooterkin®, my ‘nephew’ BabyH© and myself went to see Suicide Squad; Sooterkin and I are big geekazoids and BabyH has the makings of one given that he is an avid gamer. We all enjoyed it. There are flaws; too many characters with too little back story due to the running time, massive jumps in shot meaning occasionally it was hard to tell where in the story we were, over-egging the smoke/rain/wind/fire so the action could not be seen, and I was angered by the killing of Slipknot, the only indigenous US-American character, very early on as the example to the Squaddies of what would happen if they defied Amanda Waller, and think if they were going to do that Captain Boomerang was way more annoying and pointless, but at least the male gender was very well represented. Viola Davis as Amanda Waller was very truthful to the graphic novel, and I wanted to see and know a lot more about Katana but Enchantress was really not the scary evil that was needed to make us feel the Suicide Squad’s evilness was balanced out. Overall, a good film but not a great one.
You could be forgiven for thinking this was the Harley Quinn film though, so much emphasis has been made about what is a tour de force performance by Margot Robbie. She has perfectly captured the Harley Quinn complexity even in such an ensemble piece (props to Will Smith as Deadshot too, loved the scenes with his daughter).
Such a furore has there been about the character of Harley that I have been asked my opinion as a trustworthy feminist (why, thank you, kind person). Talk of her overt sexualisation and the potential romanticizing of what is a blatantly and very dysfunctional relationship between Harley and the Joker has been everywhere, and both are valid points to be made. Harley has worn many different outfits over the years, but this outfit was definitely the least covering of them all. Those shorts – bumfloss! My vagina winced (sorry parents, if you read this).
She also spends much of the film covered in bruises, blood, smeared make-up and quite disheveled, so if a person can’t see past the outfit to the person then I question them, not the character.
Harley is a sexual character. Her background is touched on in the film, but not in depth and I believe there are vital pieces to her story missing. She was Dr Harleen Quinzel, Psychiatrist to the in-mates of Arkham Asylum. She was Joker’s psychiatrist. She and he fell into what has been described as love. The assumption is always that the Joker seduced and broke her down mentally, and he did. He was very abusive and cruel, narcissistic and psychotic. But you know what? Harley KNEW that. She was his appointed Psychiatrist. She had cruelty, madness and badness within her. They brought the worst out of each other. She is as much a part of the relationship and the insanity of the pair as he is, and to assume she is ‘the victim’ at all times is to ignore the agency of her as a woman, and abuse of her position as his treating Psychiatrist that she chose to undertake.
I’m not excusing Joker. But I refuse to excuse Harley too. They are a killer couple, as responsible as each other.
Harley is not a feminist icon, and I am getting a little tired of every single female character newly introduced into the comics world being expected to be one. Yes, new characters and new stories for existing characters should be written with the complex nuances of the modern world in mind, and it is not good enough simply to introduce female characters, we need female writers, artists, inkers, colourists, storyliners, editors, publishers and publicists in the mix too (also for all intersectional identities too). I asked the Manager in my nearest comic store why all his books, even new female characters, were written by men. The Manager had no answer apart from “I don’t know… they don’t sell?” Yes, he actually put it to me as a question. They don’t sell because you don’t offer them! There are female writers etc. out there but the industry is still one with a massive gender bias so more needs to be done.
Harley is a very sexualized character, but is it a sexuality in which she is in control. She is using and twisting the patriarchal views of sexuality against men in particular, but she is not specific to gender and has an open sexuality (would be nice if heroes could be more open with sexuality too). Harley is empowered in her choice of clothing, her awareness of her attractiveness and her use of it, and her refusal to be defined by it. This was not made clear in the film, and is one of the main shortcomings of Harley’s character. The costume in the film made me feel the same way I did when I saw Wonder Woman in Batman -v- Superman; that sinking feeling of “here we go again, take a strong female good or bad, and reduce her to an object for the male viewer”. Cover your legs, it provides more protection! Unnecessary crotch shot in the fighting scene in BvS too, but I digress…
The one thing that comes through very strongly, for me, with Harley’s character is that in the screwed-up situation that is the Suicide Squad, she is very much in control. She makes her own decisions, she is an intelligent woman (let’s not forget she is a doctor of Psychiatry, and as the film shows is fully aware of who she is surrounded by and what their particular diagnoses are). Joker is her kryptonite, but equally she is his. They really are not a romance story.
She is not a feminist icon. She is a well-rounded villain. She is not a hero. She is a very flawed human being. She is not an object, well, not only an object, but ALL women are objectified simply by being women in our society. All female characters are going to be put under a microscope, and if a person objects to what someone is wearing because they find it overtly sexual and presumes that is objectification, they really need to look at why they are having that reaction. In the context of the story and the character, is that true? In Harley’s case, I don’t think so, not in the film, not in the graphic novels and not in the character.
Oh, and for all those pathetic little geekazoids who are making idiot memes about how all these girls are suddenly going to come out as comic fans because of Harley and they are going to take over geek worlds and it’s SO UNFAIR and it’s political correctness gone mad and other such bullshit – were you born knowledgeable about your favourite characters? Who did you first identify with? Why? Did they reflect your own gender? How lucky for you that there were so many male characters around for you to identify with. How did people react when you expressed your interest? Were you questioned and denied the right to love the character because you couldn’t answer the detailed and intimate questions about what he did in comic #54 page 3 in 1973? Get off your fear-created privilege pole and get over yourself.
In that way, yes, Harley will prove a mighty step forward, if she does inspire women and girls get into the fantasy world of comics and graphic novels, and maybe that will mean more women and girls writing, drawing etc. If that does happen, BRILLIANT! But as a feminist icon, Harley is as flawed and dangerous as any really evil villain should be.
I am a person with disabilities. I was diagnosed with spinal osteoarthritis about 10 years ago, and it has degenerated, as it is wont to do. I have mobility problems and I need to use a disabled person’s freedom travel pass (DPFTP) to travel because I cannot know day-to-day if I am going to be able to walk or not (I also have epilepsy but that is fully controlled with life-long medication so doesn’t cause me problems in my everyday life). It was a heck of a fight to actually get a travel pass in the first place given the hoops you have to jump through (ha! As if I could jump let alone make it through a hoop!) to prove your disability. There is no understanding of the flexibility (again, ha!) and changeable nature of many mobility disabilities; one day I may be able to walk 500 metres, another day I’ll be lucky to get out of bed without collapsing. Every single day I am in pain, to varying levels.
This morning it was brought to my attention that disabled people are made invisible and restricted in what they can do (not new to me, but to many it may be). I was attempting to get onto the platform of my local (to my office, for yes, I am one of the ‘lucky’ disableds with a job, in a supportive workplace too!) train station to visit a new client.
I was denied access. Apparently my DPFTP will only work after 9.30 am on National Rail services. Check out the complicated map I have to try and understand every time I attempt to travel, that the staff didn’t give me and I had to download from t’interwebes myself (tough luck if you don’t have internet access, disableds):
(this also applies to people with older person’s travel passes; 60 for women, 65 for men – non-existent gods forbid you should work after this age, because everyone knows the state pension pays enough to live on champagne and oysters for the rest of your life).
I had understood I would be able to travel as this was the advice I had been given previously. However, my local (to my home) train station, being the one I would normally use, is on the underground as well as overground line, so I can only assume that it is the underground I am allowed to travel on. Same station, same platform, similar times, different operator, different rules. Confused? Yeah, me too.
I had to cancel my client meeting and source another firm nearer to their location to help them. This potential client was dying, about to be transferred to a hospice and desperately wanted a Will drafted, and we had done a lot of preparation to make this possible, so I feel terrible about this. I can only hope the other firm is able to help them.
Disabled people in England & Wales are now stuck in a situation where they are denied the ability to travel within normal working hours in the morning, yet are being bullied and threatened into applying for myriad jobs to which they cannot get for fear of losing the PIP they have been transferred onto because their disability has been deemed not to be ‘bad enough’ by a panel of unqualified non-medical personnel with no experience or empathy. (Scotland and Northern Ireland tend to have different rules; it may even vary county to county within England & Wales but many people commute to London so this affects ALL of them).
A disabled person’s freedom travel pass is not a luxury, it is an essential part of the life of a disabled person with mobility issues. Even with being in full-time work I still need it because I cannot know day-to-day how I may be. Mornings are always appalling now. Without the pass, I could not afford to work. I am lucky, my partner works but he needs the car (and I cannot always drive it, if my pain is particularly bad I cannot be safe behind the steering wheel) so I have to use public transport. That’s my individual experience; many have similar but different tales to tell.
Policy is not the same for all travel companies, and I was left humiliated, embarrassed, angry and apologetic to the staff who had suffered my ire (I did express my apologies as it is not their fault). To me, National Rail is clearly discriminating against disabled people who work, and given the government is determined to make as many disabled people enter the workforce as possible (even if they die whilst applying for jobs or are actually unable to work due to their particular disability*) this discrimination is going to become more widespread.
I’m still angry, so I’m not sure how much of this blog is making sense, and I’m left wondering if maybe I should just give up working. All I know is
- I’m disabled.
- I work full-time.
- I cannot use my travel pass on National Rail services during working hours, when able-bodied people can.
- The only difference between the passes is my disabled pass is free to me and non-disabled travel passes are paid for by the person using it.
- Policy on use of the DPFTP is inconsistent.
In my opinion, that’s discrimination.
When I was a mere nipper, just becoming aware of the people around me and the judgements made on everyone, I remember vividly being conscious that I have a number of moles and freckles (although I didn’t learn the difference until embarrassingly recently) on my body. I did not see women represented with moles on their bodies in the wider world, certainly not women who were assessed to be beautiful. I therefore believed that my moles and freckles were ugly, and that I was ugly. It was not until the acceptance of Cindy Crawford as a ‘beautiful woman’ that moles became visible and I understood that they weren’t hideous blemishes to be covered and hidden at all costs.
The lesson I learned was that moles are ugly.
This might seem very minor to most of you, but when you are judged on your physical appearance, and all women are, it is huge. As a child learning this lesson, it sinks in and it stays there. Even now, I know I have this belief in my ugliness, for having moles and for the many other reasons that means I do not conform to the westernised standard of female attraction.
Leaving aside the argument as to the value of ‘beauty’ as a tool of assessing human beings, this lack of visibility had a profound effect on me at a very early age, and *coughmanycough* decades on it still does. So, lets extend that out, shall we?
I, as a white child, was well represented in all other aspects of my life. My upbringing was in a predominantly white area with only 5 students of colour in a school of 1,200 for the five years I attended the secondary school; we knew who they were because they were so few and that in itself brings its own problems for those students and the weight of societal expectation laid on them. I had many role models around me to identify with, the TV I watched showed white people doing all manner of things, and it was not something I questioned
As a white adult, I am still represented. My colour is highly visible. I see criminals and lawyers, teachers and politicians, housewives and detectives, all of the ‘normality’ (to a given value of normal, and that is defined by what is seen and accepted) represented by people who are of the same colour as me. That imbues a sense of the possible, the attemptable. That no path is blocked because of my colour. Furthermore, I don’t even think about the possibility that my colour may affect my future.
Same goes for heterosexuality, cisgender identity, able-bodied representation, religion, gender conformity and so on. I have some but not all those privileges, and the privilege means I don’t think about the fact I am not represented, because I am.
This is where empathy is important, and for those people who are privileged in the extreme – the white educated non-poor middle-class able-bodied heterosexual cisgender male – such empathy is harder to come by because they do not experience a lack of privilege. I will never experience such privilege, so my voice is easily dismissed. So much more so the voices of those even less privileged than I.
That is where visibility comes in. It is a representation without words that strikes down to the soul for everyone, not just those who are now seen in the wider context of society. It is not just those who are discriminated against who benefit from the visibility.
I was watching a programme called Wildlife Reunions (I just got a rescue cat, I’m totally animal-mad at the moment, it’ll pass [no it won’t]) and it featured elephant caregivers all of whom were black. Educated, African, well-rounded black men in good long-term jobs exhibiting a deep level of caring and empathy. I thought to myself, when is the last time I saw such a representation, and I could not think of a single moment of television in which such an image was depicted. When we do see Africa, it is framed as a war-torn conflicted continent filled with starving people, who suffer disease and famine and require the intervention of benevolent first world charity.
Same with disability. Much as I love Grand Designs, and Kevin McLeod, he made a comment in a recent repeat, and I paraphrase, in that he forgot someone who was building a house was disabled because he rose above it and adapted himself to the world around him. My goodness, how I found that patronising and ignorant. I know it was meant kindly, but it clearly stated that disability was something only the disabled person had to deal with and manoeuvre around. All this whilst building a house with adaptions built within the walls because he could not live in a ‘normal’ house which, as all houses are, do not allow for the potential of disability in anyone.
Other than that, disability is people in wheelchairs, specialised comedy programmes, the odd soap opera character, The Last Leg and the Paralympics. There is a reason why disability is invisible, and that is the lack of accessibility and the exclusion from mainstream media representation.
I could go on, but I would ask you all to take time to really see what it is you are exposed to around you. For example, how are BAME (Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic) people represented? Compare to white people; is the representation as broad and well-rounded? What does that mean to you, to your personal identity? These things have a subliminal effect. We retain a definition of ‘normality’ even when we try to fight against it, and we must fight against it.
A simple example that many are aware of is the representation of youth culture in the media, particularly 16-24-year-old age group. Is there a difference between representations of BAME youths as compared to white youths? Be honest with yourself, it’s the only way to move past the guilt that you may feel (because I do, very much so) that you have accepted and ignored the damage unequal and non-contextualised representation does to ourselves and our society.
There is a reason black people are far more likely to be shot and/or involved in violent crime than white people, and it is not ‘black-on-black’ violence (a reductive dismissive and ignorant statement which really should be banned).
Now stop for a second. When you read that sentence, did you assume that the black person was most likely male and most like the criminal rather than the victim? Be truly honest with yourself and examine your initial thought. It’s okay, no-one’s reading your mind.
That is what representation of black people in the media brings to you. It is systematic oppression tied into the expectations we all hold of how a black person will behave. That form of discrimination is one that kills.
Privilege is a curse as much as it is a, well, privilege, because it means we are blind and we miss out on the experience of so much of life. Accept that you will have racist thoughts, you will have suppositions about disability, you will retain ideals of gender-stereotyping and so on, if you are in the privileged sector of that social grouping. That’s not your fault.
If you don’t see all that you know exists, be aware that the invisible is just as valid, and the experiences of the invisible need to be heard, shared and shouted. Step outside the privileged comfort zone. It is not the job of the discriminated against to teach you, they have enough to do fighting for their visibility. It is your job, and my job, and everyone’s job, to learn and research and remove oneself from the platform of privilege to give space to those whose voices are by the very essence of experience more important that yours (and mine).
Visibility is vital. It’s for all of us to fight for it; the privileged even more so than those not. You won’t lose anything and you will gain so much. But even if you didn’t, are you really content to achieve and profit on the backs of those who you are stepping on and pushing down simply because they don’t have the same skin colour, physical abilities or gender as you?
The Great British Eccentric
When I grow up, I want to be just like them.
Just like a great British eccentric.
I will be wizened and gnarly, with a beard that
No woman should be able to grow.
I will curl it and wear ribbons.
And pretend I am a musketeer.
Brandishing my walking stick at all my foes,
Like Errol Flynn, but with bigger balls,
And less sexually transmitted diseases.
I will wear all my clothes, all at once,
In no particular order.
I will be hugely, massively, squishably fat.
And wear skin-tight leggings,
And have people talk in scandalised fashion,
About the wobbling of my tremendous thighs,
And my chins, and jiggle of my no longer sexy bosom.
And not care in the slightest.
I will clash in a glorious riot of colour,
Of pattern and of style.
If I am not large, I shall go the opposite way,
And be so skinny a gust of wind would blow me over,
Or at least that’s what I will say.
And I will wear voluminous skirts that drown me,
And threaten to trip me over, but I won’t fall.
Because I will be held up by bits of string,
And sticky tape and card and paper that I carry around.
Just in case I might need them.
I will challenge complete strangers to races,
On my walking stick, and if they agree,
I will win every time. Because I will cheat.
Because I am old, and cheeky, and will get away with it.
I will talk to strangers, just like my parents said I shouldn’t.
I will discuss my health in long, vivid description.
Sparing no details, from the hairs in my ears,
To the peculiar discharges I never expected,
From my long-descended vagina.
I will write, obsessively, about all that I see,
On the biros I steal from Argos and betting shops.
I will make a bet on the wrong horse.
I will intend to get it wrong, just because.
I don’t need reasons any more for anything.
I am old, I am invisible, I am free from you.
Free from expectation. Free from derivation.
Free from giving a shit!
I will flirt outrageously with anyone and everyone.
Gender be damned, I will twinkle and glow.
I will be adorable and in turn be adored.
Or feared by those who are still in their box.
Too afraid to step outside in technicolour.
Monochrome grey their world of lines,
And rules and guidance and littleness.
I am outside now, outside the box, outside
The rules, outside the society I was suppressed in.
I will be the me I want to be, finally.
I will challenge strangers to debate or conversation,
If I see a girl on a walking stick, I will run,
I will hobble and twist and grate to her,
And I will tell her my life so she can know,
That she can be all that she wants to be.
That she can reach for the stars and shine.
That she can be just like me if she wants to.
Like me and my scream of joy at life.
Like me, the great British eccentric.
© Tina Price-Johnson 6.1.14
Inspired by an old lady who challenged me to a walking stick race as I passed her in my local shopping mall; we then had the most hilarious of chats. She was in her 80s, clearly and proudly non-conforming and totally free in herself. I want to be her, so I’m practicing from now on!
She moves, she undulates.
Each side-swaying step a glory in ripples.
Waves moving up, down, out.
Her skin barely containing her body as it strains.
Every shift in her weight marked out
By the beauty of her.
Her step is heavy, heavy as she seems.
But her step is light, light as the sun,
Gleaming from her skin in reflection.
Basking on her. Over her.
Joyful to be able to become,
A part of her.
She takes up space, yet not enough.
Power contained, barely.
Muscles straining within.
We are drawn into her orbit, and
Never want to leave.
She is unaware.
She is beautiful.
Nearby, another steps out into sun.
Tight, drawn in, still in her skin.
As she makes her way through the crowd
She weaves between people.
Sparing and strong.
Skin sinewy layered over bone,
Her structure plain to see.
The form of body over bone,
Life living and loved.
She too, is beautiful.
The older woman, walking,
Strength through use.
Strength through wisdom.
The sun finds its way to shadow,
Reflecting the wrinkles earned.
Her body a map of her life.
Each fold of skin is a mark.
A medal, a proud indication
Of her long, lived, life.
Every step taken, mistake or not.
Her beauty is proudly displayed.
Her beauty suffuses.
The last is slow, shuffling, gait awkward.
Held up and on by her stick.
But ignored, beaten.
Her body is an everyday battle,
Which she has learned to fight,
With grace and with favour.
Reading the minutest hint
That she must take care.
She is beauty.
All the myriad variation
That exists in humanity.
That proclaims womanhood.
Is strength and love.
Is anger and hurt.
Is new birth and final death.
No one can be said to represent all,
And no one person is excluded.
All surface is temporary.
All is changing, inconstant.
All have power and pain,
and all I see are beautiful.
© Tina Price-Johnson 9th July 2014
I’m posting this as I was reminded of it and how much a friend loved it last weekend, whilst at the Matchwomen’s Festival 2016. I hope you like it, I hope you share it. Some positivity in this world gone strange and terrifying.
I’m in a slight state of shock to find myself writing this. That shock is in itself is an example of my own privilege. I live, breathe and immerse myself in a life of combating prejudice where and when I am able to, and in striving to ensure I am open to being challenged on my own privileges (such as the fact I am white, university-educated and live in a relatively wealthy country, although am not myself wealthy or even middling).
So I’m used to challenging myself, and the shock I feel at finding myself explaining privilege again is a result of the fact I have been questioning for so long and challenged by people who take the time to call me out when my privilege is showing. I am discriminated against, being disabled, experiencing mental health issues, and being a female and not conforming to the ideal of femininity, but my privileges are more than my intersected oppressions in the society in which I live.
It is this Facebook status message specifically which has inspired my blog:
The most perfect thing I have ever seen just happened on the replacement train bus service between Newport and Cwmbran:
White man sat in front of a mother and her son. Mother was wearing a niqab. After about 5 minutes of the mother talking to her son in another language the man, for whatever reason, feels the need to tell the woman “When you’re in the UK you should really be speaking English.”
At which point, an old woman in front of him turns around and says, “She’s in Wales. And she’s speaking Welsh.”
Quite a short and simple status message, telling the tale of a story of racism/Islamaphobia experienced by many people. I also question that the white man would have approached a male talking to his son in this way; gender may also have played its part. I have no problem believing this story may be true.
Apparently a lot of people do. Almost immediately the veracity of the story was questioned. When I posted it, I was demanded to prove it was true, and when I challenged said questioners to prove it wasn’t true, was told that as I posted it I had to prove it.
Guess what colour and gender the people questioning this were? Go on, I’ll wait…
Yes, you are right, they are white and predominantly male. In fact, all of those questioning this story that I have been able to discover in my research have been white. One objection was concerning the fact a rail replacement service had not been operating ‘that day’ (although the status message does not specifically name a day). This was quickly refuted with a very brief basic google search.
Then I stopped in my endeavours. Why was I doing this research? What the hell was I doing trying to ‘prove’ a racist incident had occurred? Why were those challenging the veracity so determined to demand proof that the specific incident had occurred? Many cited a similar tale from the United States in which a woman with her child was confronted by a man telling her to stop speaking ‘Mexican’ because she was in the USA and should speak English, and it turned out she was speaking Navajo.
So what the challenges are basically saying is that the two stories are so similar that they could not possibly have both happened.
Wow. Privilege much?
That is NOT how racism works (or any other form of prejudice, for that matter). Racism is systemic (which is why the privilege race cannot be systemically racist – that’s another blog) and is built up from myriad incidents and experiences. The fact that it happened twice in similar cultures (USA, United Kingdom) is in fact more proof of systemic racism and the effects it has on people. I’m not surprised that many similar stories can be found. There are many similar stories of incidents of sexism, racism, ableism, homophobia, islamophobia, transphobia – you name it.
I repeat, that is how discrimination and prejudice works!
Demanding ‘proof’ of incidents of discrimination instead of doing your own research if you question it is also privilege – you are assuming an incident didn’t happen because it does not tally with your own experience.
Step out of your privilege for just one second and consider what it is you are actually saying. You are denying an experience of oppression. You are silencing a voice fighting against discrimination. You are perpetuating the systems of privilege and oppression by which you benefit.
I know it’s hard to be confronted by your own privilege, but you are not responsible for having that privilege. You are responsible for what you do with it. That’s what I strive (and fail and strive again) to do. No-one is perfect. But really, is it so hard to step back and check oneself, if it means discrimination and oppression are one step further forward in being eliminated?
If your first instinct is to demand irrefutable proof an incident of discrimination actually happened rather than to find irrefutable proof that it didn’t happen, you are part of the problem. That’s your privilege. Check it.
As an Alumni of Goldsmiths College and follower/supporter of the Centre for Feminist Research based at the college, I am extremely disappointed that Professor Ahmed felt she had no pathway but to resign. Sexual harassment is a plague in society and Professor Ahmed was a beacon in the field of combating this scourge. The response from Goldsmiths, whilst I am assuming is legally bound up in red tape (and can be found on Linked In), is deeply unsatisfactory. I am now questioning my position in supporting the Centre, and should appreciate a statement from them dealing with this issue and with Professor Ahmed’s full statement on her blog, full statement to which I link in this post. Goldsmiths has always been at the forefront of intersectional feminism and sociological research. Has it truly become nothing more than a mouthpiece for the status quo? I sincerely hope not.
Colleagues and killjoys,
It is with sadness that I announce that I have resigned from my post at Goldsmiths. It is not the time to give a full account of how I came to this decision. In a previous post, I described some of the work we have been doing on sexual harassment within universities. Let me just say that I have resigned in protest against the failure to address the problem of sexual harassment. I have resigned because the costs of doing this work have been too high.
This decision was difficult. The Centre for Feminist Research has been a lifeline and a shelter. We have together created a space within the institution that has been a space to breathe. It has been a space that is not populated by the same old bodies.
I want to thank in particular all the students I have been lucky enough to work with especially those…
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